Here is part 2 of Was The Declaration of Independence Derived From Catholic Churchmen?
The divine right of kings
The question might be asked: Why was it at all necessary for men in the eighteenth century to make such emphatic declarations of democratic rights? The answer is: Because the two preceding centuries had fairly destroyed the ancient rights of the people and the medieval democratic principle of government by popular consent. In its place there was elaborated at that time the new theory of the “Divine Right of Kings” which enthroned royal autocracy and absolute monarchy.
Unbiased historical research reveals that Catholic political thinkers — men like Suarez (1548-1617), Mariana (1536-1624), Mollsa (1535-1600), Robert Persons (1546-1610), Toletus (1535-1600), Banez (1528-1604), Gregory of Valencia (1540-1603), (who lived between the years of 1528-1624), stood prominently on the side of democratic principle and the rights of the people.
Democracy not a “child of the Reformation”
The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Wycliffe et al) fully supported the worst excesses of the distorted 16th century version of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings.
A closer study of the Declaration of Independence discloses its dissimilarity with the social-contract or compact theories as explained with slight variations, by Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke, Puffendorf, Althusius, Grotius, Hooker, Kant, or Fichte. The American Declaration, like the political doctrine of Cardinal Bellarmine, declared political power as coming, in the first instance, from God, but as vested in a particular ruler by consent of the multitude or the people as a political body. The social-contract or compact theories sought the source of political power in an assumed social contract or compact by which individual rights contributed or yielded their individual rights to create a public right. Contracts of individuals can create individual rights only, not public or political rights. According to the American Declaration and Cardinal Bellarmine, government implies powers which never belonged to the individual and which, consequently, he could never have conferred upon society. The individual surrenders no authority. Sovereignty receives nothing from him. Government maintains its full dignity, it is of Divine origin, but vested in one or several individuals by popular consent.
It is unclear whether Thomas Jefferson ever read any of Cardinal Bellarmine’s actual works or not but it is known that a book named Patriarcha which is in the Congressional Library Today, is a book that once stood on the library shelf of Thomas Jefferson. David Filmer who wrote this book in defense of the Divine Right of Kings quotes from Bellarmine in order to refute Cardinal Bellearmine’s political principles of popular sovereignty. Filmer mentions mentions Bellarmine’s name a number of times in his book, Patriarcha.
Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
“Since the time that school divinity began to flourish there hath been a common opinion maintained, as well by divines, as by diverse other learned men which affirms `Mankind is naturally endowed and born with Freedom, and at liberty to choose what form of Government it please: And that the Power which any one Man hath over others, was at first bestowed according to the discretion of the Multitude.’
If Jefferson ever read the book which was found on his shelf and managed to make it to the fourth page (which I suspect he did) then he saw this quote:
To make evident the Grounds of this Question, about the Natural Liberty of Mankind, I will lay down some passages of Cardinal Bellarmine, that may best unfold the State of this controversie. Secular or Civil Power (saith he) is instituted by man; It is in the people, unless they bestow it on a Prince. This Power is immediately in the whole Multitude, as in the subject of it; for this Power is in Divine Law, but the Divine Law hath given this Power to no particular man. If the Positive Law be taken away, there is left no Reason why amongst a Multitude (who are Equal) one rather than another should bear Rule over the Rest. It depends upon the Consent of the Multitude to ordain over themselves a King, Counsel or other Magistrates; and if there be a lawful cause the multitude may change the Kingdom into an Aristocracy or Democracy. Thus far Bellarmine; in which passages are comprised the strength of all that I have read or heard produced for the Natural Liberty of the Subject.
As Rev. John Rager cogently asks in his article, “Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence”:
“Would not Jefferson, who was seeking a formulation of “the natural liberties of the subject,” be attracted to read and re-read this quotation from Bellarmine which “comprised the strength of all that had ever been produced for the natural liberty of the subject”? And does not the American Declaration reflect strikingly this very passage of Bellarmine quoted by Filmer and lying open before the eyes of Jefferson?”
Thomas Jefferson also had a folio of the discourses of Algernon Sidney, where Jefferson could have again read about Filmer’s denunciation of the democratic theories of Bellarmine. Sidney argues against Filmer’s defense of the Divine Right of Kings.
He absurdly imputes to the School Divines that which was taken up by them as a common notion, written in the heart of every man, denied by none, but such as were degenerated into beasts. The school men could not lay more approved foundations than that man is naturally free; that he cannot justly be deprived of that liberty without cause; that only those governments can be called Just which are established by the consent of nations.
Rev. John Rager goes on to refute a couple arguments which were presented by Professor Schaff:
Professor Schaff states that the “general position taken by Bellarmine, that it is for the people to choose their form of government, was not original with the Cardinal.” I know of no one who has ever claimed that the theory of popular sovereignty was original with the Cardinal, or even with St. Thomas Aquinas 300 years earlier. The claim made is that he was an ardent advocate and defender of the principle of popular government against the Divine-Right theorists of his time, and that he analyzed, defined, and elucidated most clearly and strikingly that ancient and medieval principle of sovereignty by consent of the people, when it was in its greatest danger.
Again he quotes the Cardinal as terming democracy the worst form of government. The Cardinal did make such a statement concerning simple and absolute democracy, which, he says, would lead to mob violence and the worst form of tyranny. Concerning it he quotes Plato as saying, “Who can be happy living under the arbitrary will of the crowd?” The democracy of today is far from being pure and absolute democracy. It embodies much of the monarchic and aristocratic forms of government. The type of government which the Cardinal does advocate is really a mixed government which he calls “the more useful form of government” — an adoption and combination of what is best in each of the three basic forms and a discarding of what is worst. From the monarchic element he would adopt and embody into this mixed form of government enough to insure order, peace, strength, endurance, and efficiency. From the aristocratic type of government he would borrow such features as would supply for many of the natural limitations of a one-man rule. “With the assistance of the best men of the land,” he says, “the ruler may procure wise counsel.” From the element of democracy he insists stringently upon the fundamental political principle, underlying all governments which can in any way be called democratic, the principle of sovereignty by the consent and election of the people. So much of democracy does he fuse into this “more useful” form of government that his political philosophy resents all the fundamental features of modern democratic government.
It is my opinion that Thomas Jefferson as well as the other Founders looked to the writings of Catholic churchmen for guidance when writing the Declaration of Independence.